Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Bocas del Toro, Panama

Friends from home came out for a holiday so we spent a great few days catching up, talking about things other than the best hostels, and enjoying the gifts they bought - for Chris contact lenses and chocolate, for me exfoliants, face masks and moisturisers.  After 3 months of mostly cold showers and soap, nice toiletries & hot water felt like all my Champneys at once. Easily pleased these days! 

A body boarding incident on New Year's Eve meant Chris spent the evening with concussion so while he was throwing up and shivering I had drinks with friends (Twohermitcrabs.com) and went down to the beach for fireworks at midnight.  Not quite the evening we had planned and Chris looked/felt worse than most revellers the day after.  Egg shaped bump on head he rallied by evening and we all met up for a final meal together before packing up and heading out of Costa Rica. 

The border crossing into Panama was horrid. Combination of long queues, no shade and overly officious officials took about 2 1/2 hours to get through. You have to have proof of onward travel to get into Panama but this isn't really advertised anywhere. We saw a few people being hauled off into interview rooms after innocently saying 'we don't know where we're going next' instead of coming armed with fake documents and lies like the rest of us. 

Once through we got a bus to the coast, and then a boat across to Bocas del Toro - an archipelago of Caribbean Islands. It was pouring down when we arrived and started the schlep around hostels to find a room. 

On about our 10th attempt we struck lucky (in the very loosest use of the word lucky) and found a cheap room complete with Sky, air con, hot water, a huge bed and towels.  As if that weren't enough value we also got the biggest roaches I've ever seen (suspect that might change though), rats, an unstoppable pool of water on the floor and a family of cockerels outside.  This is what you get for coming to 'party towns' in high season. 

Needless to say we moved rooms when we could - (Hotel Sagitario $30, hot water, aircon, middle of town. It's not on trip advisor/hostel world but should be. When similar places are asking $88 a night it's a bit of a gem) and got on with seeing the islands. 

Through water taxis and buses we got around 4 of them and saw bottle nose dolphin, sloths, starfish, rays, along with the usual array of vultures, parrots & pelicans. The only thing we didn't get to see were red frogs.  Despite going to red frog beach on the advice of locals ("they're everywhere... You can't move for them...") turns out they're endangered and the areas they thrive in are now out of bounds to tourists. They're only the size of a fingernail and don't do anything other frogs can't but we quite liked the idea of seeing one.

Snorkelling amongst starfish, brain coral, rays and other sea stuff made up for it. 

Overall Bocas is naturally impressive but fast being ruined. Litter on the beaches, bars (and their competing sound systems) on any spare stretch of sand, motor boats chasing dolphins for camera-ready tourists and even an inflatable banana ride being offered on the one beach safe to swim on (surf and riptides are strong here) all mean it's days of being an 'off the beaten track gem' are over.   It's not all bad by any stretch and we've had fun here (the rum's cheap*, we met back up with Lucy & Jules**, & the food caters for all gringo desires) but we're happy to be packing up our swimmies and heading inland to Panama City for some cultcha. 

* & ** are very much linked. After a day of snorkelling (us) and quad biking (them) we met at a happy hour bar for way too many cubas before staggering off for a ruby. 3 out of 4 of us were ill the next day, me for 2 days. Similar effects have been known when we've met them in Chiswick too. I can only conclude I'm allergic to them. That said, sad to wave them off as we head in opposite directions. 

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